Monthly Archives: December 2010

Habari gani? Kujichagulia!

Habari gani? Kujichagulia! Kujichagulia means self-determination and is the second day of Kwanzaa. On this day, we pledge to define ourselves, to name ourselves, to create for ourselves, and to speak for ourselves, instead of being defined, named by, created for and spoken for by others. On this day we design for ourselves a positive future and then vow to make that prophecy a self-fulfilling one.

Kujichagulia is my favorite day of Kwanzaa. Do you, Kujichagulia says. Be a rebel. Find something–anything–to throw your fist in the air and yell about. Today is the day to say FUCK the establishment, FUCK the status quo, FUCK people who are resistant to change, FUCK anyone who can’t appreciate your beauty and your truth.

Africans. Niggers. Negroes. Coloreds. Blacks. African-Americans. Niggas. Persons of the African Diaspora. Multi-generational African-Americans. Self-definition is an interesting concept to me, particularly as it relates to identity markers. Black people in this country have been struggling for centuries to answer these questions: What is blackness? Who gets to define it? Through time it has been the whites, then the upper-middle-class blacks, then the militants…no one’s really sure who it is now. There are lots of people who say blackness should be whatever every individual black person wants it to be; but then how do the non-black interpret blackness, and how do we honor yesterday (unity)? I ask the same thing about gender identity, sexual orientation identity, political party identity, class identity, age identity, religious identity…labels in general. I always say I don’t like labels. I don’t like generalizations. I don’t like that if I said I was a feminist, you would have a prescribed notion of what feminists are, a mold you’d try to put me in. I worry about the same things when I say black. When I say female. When I say 20 year old. When I say Princetonian. I WILL NOT BE COOKIE-CUTTERED TO FIT YOUR NOTIONS OF REALITY.

Heh, Kujichagulia is kind of why I started this blog to begin with…

Habari gani? Umoja!

Umoja means Unity, and it is the principle for the first day of Kwanzaa. Our families and communities need unity in order for them to be productive and to survive. On this day, we pledge to strive for and to maintain unity in the family, in the community, in the nation that we have helped to build, and with our PEOPLE.

 Unity is a concept I’ve been on a bit of a roller-coaster struggle with this year. I went to the Black Solidarity Conference at Yale in February, and it was the first time I witnessed and took part in what seemed like a real movement of any sort–a large group of people coming together around some issue, trying to be solutionaries (to steal a word from the Umoja Student Development Corporation, where I worked this past summer). That experience was so enriching and inspiring that I really thought we could recreate the feelings it gave us on campus, but over time I learned that it seems that three people simply aren’t enough to change a community climate. As time has gone on, I’ve begun to doubt whether “community” is really even a truly applicable word to describe the population of persons of African descent on Princeton’s campus–or anywhere for that matter. Community implies some measure of overall togetherness of thought and action, to my best understanding of the word anyway, which I don’t believe we have on any grand level; additionally, it must be asked whether the streamlining process inherent in “strengthening” any community engenders gross generalizations–would an attempt to make the “community” more cohesive be nothing more than self-generalization? How do you reconcile a supposedly encompassing community with the population it so clearly does not represent? What is a community without unity, and with so many factions and interests coexisting [somewhat] peacefully within the population, is true unity even a legitimate possibility? How can intersectionality and unity coexist productively? 

I have questions but no answers.

The Meaning of Christmas…

GAH, MY FACEBOOK NEWS FEED HAS TURNED INTO SOME RELIGIOUS WEBPAGE WITH SHOUTOUTS TO JESUS, AND CALLS TO REMEMBER THAT HE’S THE REASON FOR THE SEASON. *runs for cover*

Just so you know, this is not another religion-bashing post. This is, after all, their holiday. But as someone who didn’t realize that Christ had anything to do with Christmas til late childhood, I’m endeavoring to understand what exactly Christmas is supposed to mean to me. I love that the Wikipedia page for Christmas recognizes the secular aspects of the holiday early on; I feel…validated in my understanding of Christmas as an American cultural holiday, as opposed to as a Christian religious one.


I’ve talked about Christmas a lot already, because this Christmas is…different for my family this year. To make a long story short, times are tough for everyone involved–myself definitely included–and thus things are being kept…simple. And I’ve been kind of down in the dumps about it. But on the phone tonight, my friend M a) inadvertently reminded me how good a friend she is and how much I miss her, and b) told me that it takes a Christmas like this to appreciate all the other Christmases. And she’s right. It’s a Christmas like this, apart from the small children and the cookies for Santa and the tree and the anticipation that makes me sit back and think about what Christmas really means.


Christmas means taking at least a few days off from the rest of life. Christmas means being with my family, even if not everyone is thrilled about this. Christmas means doing everything within your means to get your loved ones in the Christmas spirit, meaning the spirit of love and peace and joy and giving. Christmas means love, the kind of love that, while it may lie peacefully dormant for most of the year, shows itself flamboyantly in bouts of colorful joy every once in a while, and gives of itself even knowing it can expect nothing in return. Christmas means creating your own traditions to supplement the ones your childhood gave birth to. Christmas is being in the arms of someone who loves you, and resting your head on your mom’s shoulder, mixed in with a hint of how it feels to be picked up for the first time in years. Christmas is the familiarity of your Grandmother’s kitchen combined with the thrill of a young Denzel and a pre-crack Whitney in The Preacher’s Wife and the slightest of desires to jingle when you walk. Christmas is always wanting to believe Santa is real, no matter how old you get; it’s hating snow but wishing for it anyway. Christmas is warm and somewhat fuzzy and somehow magical. Christmas is love.

 

Thanks for bringing me home.

This post is in honor of all the people you don’t realize how much you’ve missed until you’re with them again. We’ve somehow reached that age where the weeks between seeing old friends can turn into months and even years easily if we’re not careful. I’m writing to tell you to be careful. Take a random opportunity to do a familiar activity with a familiar face. That feeling of sliding comfortably back into a past you thought was lost forever is what being home is all about in the first place isn’t it? It’s funny how people can hold onto little pieces of your heart for so long that you forget they even have them, til you’re with them again and you feel home; home is where the heart is, and tonight reminded me that, while not broken, my heart is in a million places. Only a true friend can remind you of memories you forgot you had. Only a true friend turns a bad day into a warm, fuzzy one. Only true friends remind you that no matter how old you get, or how time changes you, there is always a way to belong.

Go find those people in your life over this break. Do something with them. Actively remember the person you once were, regardless of whether once was last month or ten years ago, and add this to your resolutions: do more to espouse the things you loved about her.  

Period.
Dear Pad Commercial Designers,
Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but your vials of
blue liquid convince me of absolutely nothing.
Touchably dry, my bloodstained fingertips scoff.
Your free floating cartoon pad drifts like a magic carpet
across my screen, and as it loop-de-loops, it promises
to stretch to fit my body’s natural curves.
Problem with that statement number one:
You sound like a Pamper’s Cruisers commercial.
Two: someone once told me a “regular” sized pad is designed
around the body of a size 6 woman, and I don’t like
what you’re implying about my “irregularity”.
And seriously, anyone who was just dying for a thong pad
is in dire need of a reality check.
But don’t think you’re getting off the hook that easily,
Tampon Commercial Designers. No, I’ve got a complaint or two for you.
Who are these actresses you cast? What menstruating woman in her right mind
really wants to lounge flirtatiously on a pool chaise in a bikini
between overly muscular gentlemen, or chase her dog barefoot
through the wet sand, or go clubbing in the tightest of black dresses,
or nail that difficult new yoga pose while sporting white spandex?
Sorry to be the one to break it to ya, but no one trusts you that well.
And just because you make it tinier (read: easier to leak) and dress it up
in a polka-dotted case does not make me want to show it off to my class,
and I won’t be the first person in line to twirl in slow motion through the field
of flowers or splash gaily in the waterfall either. Now is not a good time to discuss purity.
Of course, not everyone paints periods as a pocket full of sunshine, but Midol and Pamprin
Commercial Designers, you’re next on my list. If I see one more woman get half out of bed
then fall back in, or poke her water weight in the mirror/struggle to button her work pants,
or moan in agony while grabbing her waist/back/head, I’m going to scream.
Yes, it hurts. We all know that. We’ve all known that from tender ages of innocence.
We also know that the cute tight pants are out of commission for a few days, and no matter
how tight the budget is, that morning coffee is a must this week. We know we’ll be crying at
the sappy movies and not having the energy to move, but the real world expects us
up at our normal times and moving at our normal rates and not taking twice as many bathroom
breaks because we either feel like we’re back in diapers or our tampon is so small we can’t feel it
and that’s worrying but either way popping two pills doesn’t stop the feeling that we’re dying
so either show the woman with the clenched jaw and the halfhearted smile who suffers invisibly 
or shut the fuck up.
That last bit is meant for all of you.
Signed,
Your Consumers

They say the most suicides happen around the holidays…

…because people whose families are gone or split up or just not coming to town get really depressed, especially as said people get older. The opposite kind of phenomenon happens to me when I go home for the holidays…
The hardest thing for me to get used to about being home is consistently the shock of how much time I spend alone. I thought this would change this year, because I have a single, but I simply don’t spend any significant waking time there, so it unfortunately has no desensitizing effect on me. Even at a school that falls into the “small private” category for my JP, on campus I’m almost always in the presence of other people. Even though I live in a single, a hundred or so people live in my building, and I can hear the girls across from me laughing sometimes. It’s no big deal for the girl in the shower stall next to me to ask to borrow my body wash; bathrooms have been deprivatized. (Yes I just made that word up.) I eat all my meals with a subset of the same group of 70ish people, the Large Library has a crew, and there are certain friends I can’t see without hugging.
But my house isn’t structured for such interactions. With the split levels, it’s really as if every person has his or her own floor. My sister and I flip-flop between the living room (2nd landing) and our bedroom (5th landing), rarely coexisting in the same space. My brother’s room is on the third landing, next to the office with the computer he broke, so no one else is ever there, and my mom spends all her time in her room on the third landing. We each exist in our own separate worlds, and rarely do they meet.
My friends aren’t within walking distance here. Even if they were, I don’t feel the same ability to just show up uninvitedly; here in the real world, there are families and gatherings and other plans.
So here there are days when I realize I hadn’t spoken until after 3 this afternoon, simply because there was no one to say hello to til then.
India would say Sometimes I’m alone, but never lonely. I wish I could agree with her. And E says this shouldn’t bother me as much as it does. She says free time is a gift that I should be thankful for, but free ALONE time has always been a curse to me. I’m good at creating space and time for me within lots of hustle and bustle, but I’m at a total loss when “free time” stretches before me like a lake with the stillest of waters. It’s not even that I would like to have everything planned out, because I’m not the biggest of planners, it’s just…if I’m watching TV, I would rather have someone to laugh at the TV with, someone to steal the blanket from, someone to roll their eyes at me when I tear up. It’s that, while I wouldn’t mind getting one of those fancy new touchscreen handheld Scrabble console things, I would always rather have an actual partner to play an actual game with. It’s so quiet here. I miss the strange commingling of first-person-shooter and Mario Galaxy sounds coming from the Game Room.
Fact that others may find sad but I just consider to be a fact of life: My friend circles have always felt more familial to me than my actual family feels most of the time. That only really bothers me at all around the holidays, when everyone disappears from AIM and Facebook and talks about all the fun they’re having/going to have with their families. I smile and nod like I’m cosigning that, but really all I think about is how much I miss the people I share my life with. Those people and the people who share my DNA or even my permanent address have never been one and the same.
Thought that actually saddens/terrifies me: Is this what’s waiting for me when undergrad life ends?

[You’re a] Good Man

I don’t want this to be the India song I associate with your name, because it’s far too beautifully tragic, and you’re The Truth and a Complicated Melody already, but last night you said something that made me realize that you’re a good man. Not only suave, witty, ambitious, handsome, brilliant–but genuinely good. One of the best I know. You commented on a father-son relationship in Love Actually and told me that you want your son to love you like that. You would have given me one of your dramatic looks if I’d told you this then, but I think that’s beautiful. It’s like, I already know you’re going to be a great father someday. I can already tell that I’ll be jealous of your relationships with your kids, not because I want kids of my own but because as much as I hate to admit this, I always wanted parents like that. The kind who love openly. I know your mother is proud of you, even if you aren’t always proud of yourself. Hell, I’m proud of you, more and more so every single day. This is just another way I look up to you. I’d have kids if I could be like you. But though I can cherish all of my friends and love you all with open arms, I’m still learning how to love one other person with an entirely open heart.

I went to New York to see a show last fall

and had to purchase a MetroCard to get around, obviously. This was the card I got:

 I still have this card. It sits in my wallet with my Visa Check card and my photo IDs and my CVS card and my U-Store Membership card and my insurance card and when I find it in the midst of looking for one of those zillion cards, I pause for a split second and I have to smile. It says in tiny letters that it’s part of an Arts for Transit project, and mentions the artist’s name. I think this card is fantastic. I hope that the small moment of joy it continually brings me is what the artist–and New York City as a governmental figure?–wanted me to feel, and I want to do all in my power to ensure that I have this card until I am old and grey.

My friend K who I talk about, he told me today that optimism is his new plan for the next few months forever. It made me so happy, because I am always so worried about him putting too much pressure on himself and forgetting to have fun and remember that no matter what happens, the big picture is BIGGER than this and in it, he’s a wonderful individual. But it also got me thinking…

People constantly tell me that I’m a bright, bubbly, cheerful person. This afternoon a friend told me she can never imagine anyone saying I’m a mean person. Part of me (the you’re-your-own-worst-critic part) gives them a look like, Whatchu talkin bout, Willis?! but the bigger part of me recognizes the truth in what they’re saying. I think about how I talk to K, or to F or to T, I think about the feelings I try to leave in my wake wherever I go in daily life, the impression I try to impart on my friends and acquaintances, the beauty and growth I try to see in the trials of life, and the care and warmth I try to give to everyone who matters to me in some small degree and realize that I am a bright, bubbly, and cheerful person the vast majority of the time…to most people, but not always to myself.


It’s time for that to go. It’s not necessary that I don’t want to worry about shit, but just that I want to be confident in my abilities and assured in the fact that I can handle my life, and stop stressing over shit that doesn’t matter. There’s just no damn sense in being your own worst enemy, under any circumstances. Optimism. Live life limitlessly. 


Tangent to the last post:

Second location/situation that makes me feel isolated from “the black community”, especially the black Princetonian community, probably to an even larger degree than do black parties: The Black Church. Well, okay, the Princeton University Gospel Ensemble concerts, which is basically the same thing. I only know of one other active member of the black community here who is non-religious…it’s hard out here for black non-Christians!

I basically feel socially obligated to go to PUGE concerts. There were approximately 3 people on stage tonight with whom I am neither friends nor acquaintances. I want to be able to treat a PUGE concert like I treat one of K’s Glee Club concerts. In fact, no offense to K, but I want to be able to appreciate it even MORE, because gospel is much more closely related to the kind of music I enjoy listening too. I want to be able to go support and appreciate my friends’ musical endeavors. But when the first words out of the emcee’s mouth are Praise God, and when she says (like they always say) that we are not here to enjoy a concert, but to praise and worship our Lord, all I feel is isolated. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I came here to enjoy a concert, and I don’t want to be made to feel like an outsider and a bad person because of it.

I’m sure it’s hard for people who were raised in the church, or at least with religion as an active part of their household, to understand that the act of entering a church is hard for me. It is difficult for me to sit in a pew within inches of a Bible. It is difficult for me to sit awkwardly as the congregation stands and bows their heads in prayer. It is difficult for me not to jitter my leg and fidget with my hair and my bracelets as the women sitting behind me shout Hallelujah! and Praise Jesus! and pat me on the shoulder saying “Blessings unto you.” It is DIFFICULT, and every muscle in my body is tense for the majority of my time there. It takes nearly every measure of my patience and self-control to fight the urge to take flight. 
 
But I do this. I do this regularly, for every concert PUGE has. Because these are my friends. And I owe them my support…especially when my support doesn’t cost any money. But, correct me if I’m wrong, I always thought churches were supposed to be welcoming places. So when a performer, who happens to be a good friend of mine, asks the audience if we love gospel, and when not everyone raises their hands, he says, “Some of y’all lookin real hesitant; I don’t know why you’re here,” I. don’t. feel. welcomed. I ducked out before the invitation this year, but Preacher, despite your best intentions, inviting me to join your church and feel the love and warmth and the spirit of Jesus is unwelcoming by its very nature–you are assuming that your way of life is better than mine and that I should want to take up your way. Your Bible recognizes that people should come as they are; I would like you to give me the honor of leaving that way as well, if I should so choose.

I have problems with the black church. I have problems with “the church”. I have problems with Christianity, and with Islam, and with Judaism, and with religion as a concept. I have problems appreciating songs that make relationships with God sound like celebrity obsessions or abusive domestic situations. But I try very hard to make these problems take second place to my love and support for my friends, and I hate that my aversion to the isolation and judgment inherent in the invitation makes me miss the reception that would let the friends I came to support know that I was even here. It makes me wonder why I even put myself through this.